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Interviews

Gary Willis: Something to Say

By Published: October 23, 2007
AAJ: It works perfectly for me; to me it's the standout track on the album. I'd like to ask you about Llibert Fortuny, who is quite an original and exciting voice. How did you hook up with him?

GW: We met at a jazz club called Jamboree, we played together and we've got some things in common, and so when I brought Kirk [Covington] over to work on Actual Fiction I booked a couple of nights at the Jamboree with Llibert, me and Kirk, and they were kind of eye-opening as far as the territory that we could cover.

What's amazing about Llibert is...[laughs] I hate alto sax, really, just because of the traditional way it's conceived ; I love Charlie Parker, I love Cannonball [Adderley], but past that there hasn't been much that I've enjoyed. The thing is he doesn't play like a saxophonist, he plays like a musician, and especially he's not always looking for opportunities to solo like most sax players. He's always looking for how to compositionally fit into the tune and take the song somewhere. So when we jam we're trying to jam compositionally.

AAJ: So, he doesn't play like a saxophonist, he plays like a musician? Did I hear that right? You're not going to make any friends amongst saxophonists.

GW: Alto players [laughs]. Kirk and I went to North State University, Texas together, and we spent so many hours playing behind these sax players, and it was like a fitness exercise, like, how many choruses could they play consecutively. It was kind of a joke after a while.

AAJ: The band Slaughterhouse 3 recently played the Sizget festival in Budapest. Was that your first gig together and how did it go down?

GW: Technically no, we played some last summer when we had Kirk out to record. It was our first world tour though. It was amazing; a real blast The audience was great. Somebody put a little bit of video up on YouTube and I emailed them trying to get more. I'm hoping there's some available. It was really a fun gig. I'm hoping we can do several Slaughterhouse 3 world tours consecutively, consecutive nights, you know? The last tour was just one.

AAJ: What's your take on YouTube? I've seen your teaching videos and old videos of Tribal Tech. Are you all for having it out there or do you feel this is just another infringement on the author's rights?

GW: I think you have to look at it now as promotion. Everybody, including myself, has jumped through these hoops trying to monetize it and you can't, the only thing you can do is just think that big. If you think that big then the way to use it is as promotion and if you try to monetize it it's just going to fail.

AAJ: You've produced four books on bass guitar instruction, one of which Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass (Hal Leonard, 1998) caught my attention and I wanted to ask you about the concept of "fingering —fingering sounds that you hear around you, and I wondered if you could explain a little bit about this theory?

GW: It came about as a reaction to how I was forced to experience ear training at university. At university there was a class full of oboists and pianists, and tubas and trombones, so in order to have something in common then ear training is taught, you are told to imagine it on a keyboard which allows everybody to go to a practice room and practice ear training, but it has nothing to do with your personal relationship with your instrument.

The other thing is that a lot of bassists and guitarists are told to try and stay away from patterns but the bass fingerboard is symmetric and you can trust the shapes to always get the sound that you want. So if you relate the shapes to the sound then you'll always be able to visualize what you hear.

GaryAAJ: No matter what that sound is?

GW: Exactly. If you develop the ability to imitate whatever you hear externally then you'll have trained yourself well enough to play whatever you imagine, and that's kind of the ultimate. It's the title I guess.

AAJ: Miles Davis, in one of his last in-depth interviews with Q Magazine in 1986 said that even car crashes sound musical these days. Do you think that Miles was at the fingering business as well then?

GW: The fingering business is based on the instrument and I'm sure Miles was able to play what he imagined. There was really the sense of freedom that I understood that Charlie Parker had. I didn't want to sound like Charlie Parker but you definitely get a sense of freedom—that he could just go and turn and stop and start and play whatever came into his head. It's that sense of freedom that I try to get.

AAJ: As a matter of interest if you don't mind my asking, how do your instructional books sell compared to your CDs?

GW: I think they sell very well and income has been very consistent, because I think the publisher is honest. Record companies? Bigger companies that have been involved in all the CDs I've produced in the past, except for my solo CDs have all some elements of corruption.

AAJ: And except for Abstract Logix you'd have to say as well?

GW: Yeah, except for Abstract Logix and Alchemy, but there has in the past been such an element of corruption that I've made more money from books and basses.


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